Dorothy Spruill Redford Speaks at Dr. Martin Luther King Day Convocation

April 06, 2010


Listening to his "inner voice" led Dr. Martin Luther King to accomplish great things, according to Dorothy Spruill Redford, keynote speaker for the Dr. Martin Luther King Day activities at Mount Union College. Redford listened to her inner voice as well, leading her to not only discover her own roots, but give voice to generations of enslaved African-Americans whose contributions helped shape the Creswell, North Carolina region. 

Dorothy Spruill Redford

Redford, the author of "Somerset Homecoming" and executive director of North Carolina's Somerset Place State Historic Site, emphasized that Dr. Martin Luther King felt that his greatest achievement was not winning the Nobel Prize or any other award, but that he gave his life to serving others. She said that according to King, anyone could emulate his achievements because we all have the capacity to serve humanity.

Redford said that her inner voice was that of her enslaved ancestors, and for them she sought the equality in death that they were denied in life.

Inspiration came to Redford while watching "Roots" with her thirteen year old daughter, who asked the question,"where did we come from?" Redford not only traced her roots back to the Somerset plantation, she then began researching the generations of enslaved African-Americans who worked there. Her work culminated in a nationally-publicized gathering at the Somerset plantation of the more than 2,000 descendents of Somerset, including both the ancestors of the slaves and those of the plantation owners and overseers. Redford said that including both the ancestors of the slaves and well as those of the plantation owners was important, because "we cannot move beyond the negative past until we have dialogue. Part of that dialogue heals and changes the perception of Somerset Place forever."

Redford helped change Somerset Place from a historical site with no mention of the slaves who had worked there, to a place where both African-Americans and whites can learn about their history in that region.

"When I first visited Somerset, there was no acknowledgement that the enslaved community even existed," said Redford. "When you ignore African-American history, or Native American history, or women's history, you are ignoring the people as well. We are our history."

Redford urged those in attendance to listen to their inner voices as well.

"Believe in what you hear, because no one hears it but you. You might be going in a direction that no one but you understands," said Redford. "Your contribution may be major, like the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, or it might be mentoring just one child or visiting one elderly person to let them know they are loved and appreciated. Let your inner voice choose your noble path."

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